|A canal in Nam Thanh Commune's Binh Yen village in Nam Dinh Province is seriously polluted due to untreated waste discharged from the trading village. — VNS Photo Thu Hang
by Hang Nguyen
NAM DINH (VNS) — Tonnes of untreated waste in Nam Thanh Commune's Binh Yen village have been discharged into fields and canals, polluting the environment and causing headaches for authorities in northern Nam Dinh Province.
Over the past five years, the process of recycling aluminum, mainly from beer cans to manufacture pots and pans, generated toxic fumes, solid hazardous waste and wastewater in the commune, said Nguyen Van Dong, vice chairman of the People's Committee of the commune.
It was estimated that about 1 tonne of untreated waste and 500 cubic metres of wastewater were discharged daily into the village, he said.
Of note, some 269 of 570 households in the village were reported to be participating in recycling aluminum, he added.
Recent findings from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment indicate that the contents found in the surface water of Nam Ninh Hai River were 12.2 times higher in pollutants than permitted. Further, the contents of the chemical oxygen demand (COD) was 20 times higher, and biochemical oxygen demand for the five-day test (BOD5) was 21.2 times higher than normal.
A 53-year-old villager said her family began recycling aluminum years ago since the monthly income from recycling aluminum was double or triple what they received growing rice.
"We only received about VND1-2 million (US$47-94) per month when we grew rice," she said, adding that it was not enough to cover living expenses for a family of five.
So, they decided to recycle aluminum, instead of growing rice.
"We knew that doing this caused environmental pollution. At first, we also felt suffocated by the fumes but we have no choice," she said.
Nguyen Thi Men (not her real name), another villager, said that within three years she, her husband and their three sons re-paid VND400 million ($18,800) to the local bank for a loan to purchase equipment to recycle aluminum.
She added that after seeing other villagers earn money from recycling aluminum, her family also learned the trade.
However, this year their income was not as much as in previous years, partly due to the economic slowdown.
Meanwhile, Bui Van Minh, 52, said he began recycling aluminum to earn enough money to raise his son and daughter, although he knew it was destroying the surrounding environment.
"My son and daughter will not be recycling aluminum, like my wife and I did," he vowed.
"They just graduated from the Academy of Finance and Viet Nam University of Commerce, and will earn their livings in other ways, different than us."
Minh said that he and other villagers expect support from the Government to relocate them to an industrial zone with proper waste treatment systems in the coming years.
"If we are relocated to an industrial zone, we would keep our careers and earn our livings, and the situation of environment pollution here might be step-by-step dealt with," he said.
Nguyen Van Ngoan, chairman of the communal People's Committee, said aluminum recycling created jobs for nearly 2,000 villagers.
This was the reason why it was difficult for the local authorities to force villagers to stop recycling, he said.
Now, however, the bottom of local canals, which are filled with toxic waste and wastewater, are higher than the surface of local fields, he said.
Pollution in the canals, which were used for irrigation, meant local farmers could not grow rice in about 4 hectares of agricultural land in the commune, he said.
Materials for recycling aluminum were transported from the district's Van Chang Village, or from northern Bac Ninh Province, he said.
According to Ngoan, a one-year project, worth around VND450 million ($21,100) funded by Swedish International Development Co-operation and several international organizations, was launched in 2008 to reduce pollution in the commune.
The project helped the producers to build chimneys, provided them barrels to collect hazardous solid wastes, and helped them partially treat wastewater, he said.
"But when the project ended in 2009, everything returned to where it was," Ngoan said.
According to Ngoan, another one-year project to build models to treat fumes, hazardous solid waste and wastewater in the trade village, launched in 2011 with support from the Viet Nam Environment Administration, was still just a model after the project finished because villagers could not pay for the operating costs.
Director of Nam Dinh Province's Natural Resources and Environment Department Vu Minh Luong said that the department was "at a standstill" in finding a solution.
"The name of the trade village is Binh Yen, it means ‘peaceful', but we felt it is not peaceful at all, since environmental pollution from recycling aluminum here caused concerns for us year by year," Luong said.
"We cooperated with the communal People's Committee to issue fines for the recyclers but failed, as they were ignored," he said. "We planned to relocate the trade village to an industrial zone."
But, to relocate the trade village to an industrial zone, the village needed financing and management methods from the Government and environment ministry, he added. — VNS